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 Post subject: Harp question
PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:45 pm 
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Hi, I'm usually over in the flute forum and don't come here that often but i have a harp question if there is a kind harp person who can answer it :)
I have been playing the flute for a couple of years now and right now frequent only one local session but want to play at other sessions as well. My wife loves to come with me and listen to the music but often feels a bit too much like an observer sometimes. She has looked and listened to the various instruments but the only one that really catches her fancy is the harp which she loves however, we don't own a car to transport a great big lever harp around town and even if we did have a car the cost of a harp that size is a bit prohibitive right now.

My question is: Is it ok to bring lap harps to sessions? I have only seen large harps at sessions so far. Also, how does the tuning of lap harps differ from that of the larger lever harps and how does the smaller number of strings affect the range of tunes you can play?

Thanks,
Bob


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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 2:35 am 
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There'd be no problem bringing a small harp to a session ("lap" harp is something of a misnomer. They aren't actually held in the lap, but rather usually propped on a stool or box, or held across the knees using a lap bar or "knee bones). Volume might be an issue, as a smaller soundbox produces less volume than a large one, but then harps rarely stand out in a session anyway.

Small harps are tuned exactly the same way as larger harps...diatonically, with the red strings being C and the blue strings being F. How she tunes will be more a function of what levers she has. If she has levers on her C's and F's, C would be the most logical key to tune in, setting the levers to play in D or G (this will give her more range if she wants to do things other than just chord along on session tunes). If she doesn't have levers, for a session, she'd probably want to tune to D for the most part (i.e., tune the C's and F's sharp), retuning to G as needed.

Range shouldn't be a problem. My small harp (a Harpsicle) has 26 strings (3 1/2 octaves), which is ample. You can always invert chords, or bring them up an octave, or just play partial chords, if you run out of space in the left hand. Or you can play coupled hands and eliminate the whole "left hand/right hand" conundrum entirely. Bear in mind that a harper at a session is usually playing accompaniment, so a huge range really isn't needed. Even if she decides to learn to play the harp outside of sessions (which I highly recommend, by the way...session playing can, frankly, get a little boring for a harper), 26 strings is perfectly useable (I have three harps, two of which are small enough to be considered "lap harps," and they all have 26 strings).

I strongly recommend that she get lessons, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it's easy to injure yourself with poor technique on the harp. A good teacher will also be able to help her get the most out of her harp during sessions. She'll want someone with some background in Irish music (classical harp teachers are of limited use to folk harpers) and with a good grounding in music theory, as a real understanding of chord theory is really useful when you're trying to work out how to accompany a given tune.

Redwolf

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 11:46 am 
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What Redwolf said. I would recommend something that extends to at least C below middle-C to minimize the chances of your left hand encroaching on what the right hand is doing. My first harp is a 22-string kit-harp that only goes to G below and I really miss the extra 4 strings. If we'd known anything about harps when we built it, we would have at least gone for 26-strings.

My second harp (bought used) has 34 strings and removeable legs that bring it up to playing height so I don't need a stool. It will easily fit in the back seat of any small car but has a padded bag/case with shoulder handles for walking. Not all makers include a case in the base price of an instrument so keep that in mind when shopping around. I can't imagine carrying the harp very far without a case.

As you are probably aware, there are mass-produced imports that should be avoided. Good luck!

Robin


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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:17 pm 
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My harpist pal says you actually won't go far wrong buying a cheap Pakistani harp to learn on, PROVIDED YOU TAKE THE LEVERS OFF AND THROW THEM AWAY. The rest of the instrument is fine and it will work well in a fixed tuning (say two sharps for Scottish music).

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:48 pm 
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Thank you all for your advice! I've been looking at some of the harpsicle line harps with levers on C and F like Redwolf mentioned which are more or less in my price range. There is a local teacher of irish harp music but i believe she teaches her students on full sized harps so i'll see if i can find her contact info and talk to her about some private lessons.
I don't think volume would be a big concern right now. I know what it's like being a beginner and those times when i have appreciated not being able to be heard in a session :oops:

Thanks again,
Bob


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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:53 pm 
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JackCampin wrote:
My harpist pal says you actually won't go far wrong buying a cheap Pakistani harp to learn on, PROVIDED YOU TAKE THE LEVERS OFF AND THROW THEM AWAY. The rest of the instrument is fine and it will work well in a fixed tuning (say two sharps for Scottish music).


As someone who has had dealings wiwth these Pakistani harp-shaped objects, I must disagree. They are absolute pieces of crap. It's not just the levers that are problematic. Many of them simply won't hold tune at all. Sound boards crack and necks go askew. Sometimes they're even strung improperly to begin with! And the best of them sounds like rubber bands on a cigar box. For the price of one of these Pakistani monstrosities, you can get an unlevered Harpsicle, made by a reputable manufacturer. For just a little bit more, you can get an unlevered Dusty Strings Ravenna 26, which may well be all the harp you ever need (and has the advantage of allowing you to add levers later if you need them).

Once in a while someone gets lucky with one of these Pakistani monstrosities and tells the world "they're not as bad as you've heard," but if you do your research, you'll see that the horror stories far outweigh the good experiences. Given that good, reliable, harps are available in the same price range, there's absolutely no reason to throw good money away on a Pakistani "harp," no matter how good a bargain it may seem.

Redwolf

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:56 pm 
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monkeymonk wrote:
Thank you all for your advice! I've been looking at some of the harpsicle line harps with levers on C and F like Redwolf mentioned which are more or less in my price range. There is a local teacher of irish harp music but i believe she teaches her students on full sized harps so i'll see if i can find her contact info and talk to her about some private lessons.
I don't think volume would be a big concern right now. I know what it's like being a beginner and those times when i have appreciated not being able to be heard in a session :oops:

Thanks again,
Bob


Bob...if you're looking at a levered Harpsicle, you might want to go a bit further and look at an (initially) unlevered Dusty Strings Ravenna 26. It's a lot more harp for about the same money, and the levers can be added later, if you find you need them. Harpsicles are good deals as travel/secondary harps, and they are made by a reliable manufacturer, as I said, but once you start adding levers, you start getting into the price range where you'd be better off starting with a better overall basic harp and adding the levers later.

You might want to look seriously at this:

http://www.dustystrings.com/instrumentb ... fault.aspx

Redwolf

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:03 pm 
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I should ask...you mention the teacher teaches on "full-size harps." How are you defining "full-size"? When it comes to folk harps, "full-size" (if you were to hear the term at all) would be about five octaves, and we'd be talking about lever harps. Any teacher who is teaching primarily on a harp like that, and focusing on Irish/Scottish music would be easily able to accommodate smaller harps. Seriously though..."full-size" is not a term folk harpers use, for the most part. If you mean concert harps (pedal harps), that's really a different instrument. The teacher is going to be primarily a classical musician, and probably not the best match for what you want.

Redwolf

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 9:17 pm 
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springrobin wrote:
What Redwolf said. I would recommend something that extends to at least C below middle-C to minimize the chances of your left hand encroaching on what the right hand is doing.


Ah, Robin...there's the advantage of coupled hands! The left and the right work together. It's mainly a wire harp technique, but a lot of it translates well to nylon as well.

Redwolf

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 8:22 am 
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I have a friend who is a serious harp player. He has studied both Irish and Scottish harp from well known instructors.

He recently took up bouzouki because at the sessions he attends they mostly play tunes at tempos he can't manage. Just too fast for harp. I guess they already have guitarists doing accompaniment or something.

Harps are cool. It's really neat when you're outdoors and they start singing in the wind.


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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 8:46 am 
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Quote:
I should ask...you mention the teacher teaches on "full-size harps." How are you defining "full-size"? When it comes to folk harps, "full-size" (if you were to hear the term at all) would be about five octaves, and we'd be talking about lever harps. Any teacher who is teaching primarily on a harp like that, and focusing on Irish/Scottish music would be easily able to accommodate smaller harps. Seriously though..."full-size" is not a term folk harpers use, for the most part. If you mean concert harps (pedal harps), that's really a different instrument. The teacher is going to be primarily a classical musician, and probably not the best match for what you want.


Ah yes, I suppose that would be like someone referring to my D flute as a "regular" flute. I guess when i said "full-size" i really meant a 34 strig harp (i think). Something the size that Maeve Gilchrist plays. The teacher is at the local Comhaltas school so i'm not concerned about her teaching qualifications. The only thing i am concerned about is bringing a small harp to a class where everyone is learning on larger harps.
In the meanwhile I'll have a look at the dustystrings harps.
Isn't it a bit of an inconvinience to tune to the key of D and G without levers?

Thanks again for your knowledgeable advice and thanks to you too Robin.

Regards,
Bob


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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:15 am 
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monkeymonk wrote:
Quote:
I should ask...you mention the teacher teaches on "full-size harps." How are you defining "full-size"? When it comes to folk harps, "full-size" (if you were to hear the term at all) would be about five octaves, and we'd be talking about lever harps. Any teacher who is teaching primarily on a harp like that, and focusing on Irish/Scottish music would be easily able to accommodate smaller harps. Seriously though..."full-size" is not a term folk harpers use, for the most part. If you mean concert harps (pedal harps), that's really a different instrument. The teacher is going to be primarily a classical musician, and probably not the best match for what you want.


Ah yes, I suppose that would be like someone referring to my D flute as a "regular" flute. I guess when i said "full-size" i really meant a 34 strig harp (i think). Something the size that Maeve Gilchrist plays. The teacher is at the local Comhaltas school so i'm not concerned about her teaching qualifications. The only thing i am concerned about is bringing a small harp to a class where everyone is learning on larger harps.
In the meanwhile I'll have a look at the dustystrings harps.
Isn't it a bit of an inconvinience to tune to the key of D and G without levers?

Thanks again for your knowledgeable advice and thanks to you too Robin.

Regards,
Bob


Seriously, no serious folk harp player or teacher is going to quibble about the relative size of the harps in the class. It's a non-issue. In fact, unless everyone but you is renting harps from the same place, there will likely be many different sizes in the class, and more than a few playing on 26-stringed instruments.

Any harp teacher worthy of the name will be able to teach you how to adapt the left hand when necessary. I've been playing a 26-stringed harp for going on seven years, and never really felt the need to have a bigger one.

Granted that levers are more convenient, it's not that big a deal to re-tune. Wire harpers do it all the time. I can take my C's and F's sharp or flat by ear in less than 30 seconds. When accompanying, sometimes the entire issue can be avoided by avoiding certain chords, or by playing fifths or chiming notes instead of triads.

The nice thing about the Ravenna is it's set up so you can add levers yourself as you need them (it's easy to do if you're even remotely handy). Chances are you won't need them for the first six months to a year of learning anyway.

While an unlevered Harpsicle is a bargain, once you start adding levers, you start getting into the price range of instruments with much fuller, rounder, and louder voices. Granted the Harpsicle is extremely portable (I use mine mainly for travel). You have to evaluate the trade-off. If you can arrange to play on a Harpsicle and a larger 26-string harp, you'll easily hear the difference, even if all you can do is pluck random strings.

Another option, which might be better for you, is to rent an instrument for six months to a year, until you're certain about what you want in a harp. The teacher may have instruments for rent, or he/she may be able to tell you who does.

Redwolf

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:53 am 
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Redwolf,

I asked both my classical and Celtic harp teachers about "coupled hands" awhile ago and neither of them knew what I was talking about. When you say "wire" do you mean double-strung? Both of my bigger harps have wire in addition to gut and nylon strings.


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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 11:19 am 
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springrobin wrote:
Redwolf,

I asked both my classical and Celtic harp teachers about "coupled hands" awhile ago and neither of them knew what I was talking about. When you say "wire" do you mean double-strung? Both of my bigger harps have wire in addition to gut and nylon strings.


By wire I mean the classical Gaelic wire-strung harp (such as the Trinity harp in Dublin...the one that's on the Guinness bottle). They're strung entirely with brass, bronze or (sometimes) gold or silver strings, usually have narrower spacing than lever harps, and are played with the fingernails. And no...they're not double-strung.

That's my wire harp in front in my avatar...the reddish one with the sound holes.

Here's a video of Paul Dooley playing the wire-strung harp (he's not using coupled hands here):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEymeFxWhx0

Coupled hands is a playing method by which the right and left hand work together. Usually harmony is supplied by the fingers of the left hand, while the left hand thumb and the fingers of the right hand play the melody. In this method, the fingers of the right hand often come between the fingers and the thumb of the left hand. This harper is using coupled hands:

http://ckuik.com/Ann_Heymann

(edited to add that the site won't let me link directly to the video in question. Follow the link, then click on the video of the man in the purple shirt).

If you watch his hands, you'll see that his right and left hand generally stay very close to one another, unless he wants to play a lower bass chord for emphasis, and occasionally the right hand reaches between the thumb and fingers of the left. That's coupled hands.

It's especially well-suited to the wire harp because it has many damping techniques built in, but I use some coupled hands techniques on my lever harp as well.

Probably the best source for information on this is Ann Heymann's book "Coupled Hands for Harpers."

Redwolf

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 Post subject: Re: Harp question
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:56 pm 
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I play both my 32 string Dusty Strings (floor size) harp and my Triplett Christina 25 string at sessions. I also play bouzouki, but honestly, after playing accompaniment with harp in my band with a wicked fiddle player, I have no problems keeping up in a session.

Most people really enjoy seeing a harp at a session (for novelty, I guess). At least that's been my experience. The biggest aid I have found in playing in a session is just the experience of playing with others. Harp can be a lonely instrument. I worked with a student last week on ensemble playing: it can sometimes be new territory.

Many new harpists in a session will really just need to work on changing chords quickly. I'm not the most amazing harpist, but let me tell you: I can keep up with the chord changes on Tam Lin ;) The good news is that most ITM songs will follow a pretty steady harmonic pattern, so she should catch on pretty quickly!

There are several makers that do a rent-to-own or simply a rental program. I bought my Triplett Christina through this with them on this program. They are lovely people to deal with and have been so helpful when I've had any questions. I ended up paying over four months, so I was only out about $20 total in rental fees.

Feel free to message me if you have any other questions!

Best of luck. We need more harpists/harpers/harperists/harpies out there :)


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